(Originally liveblogged on March 6, 2008)
Somehow, this seems like the perfect way to kick off what could be the last conventional meeting of the Procedure and House Affairs meeting for some time: up until about two minutes ago, we were all standing around in the hallway outside the committee room, waiting for Human Resources – one of the few remaining functional committees – to finish up a study on something of actual substance. Now, however, we’re inside, and the opposition MPs are serenading a somewhat bootfaced Gary Goodyear with “Goodbye, goodbye, it’s time to say goodbye.”
Not only is this meeting Goodyear’s last stand, but as noted earlier, it may also be the last meeting of the committee itself for some time. If the Conservatives don’t nominate a replacement – which they can not do, under the rules – the whole thing is plunged into the same parliamentary limbo that hung Official Languages last spring, and we all know what means: Rogue Committee Time! At least, in theory.
Without further ado, Goodyear grudgingly gavels his way towards footnote-in-history, and opens debate on the motion of non-confidence in, well, him.
Michel Guimond kicks off the discussion by explaining, in painstaking detail, how this committee has gone “off the rails” due to quixotic, unilateral decisions by the chair. Goodyear appears unmoved by the charges; actually, he doesn’t even seem to be listening to Guimond’s speech.
Guimond has now launched into English – a rare event – although he notes that he speaks English “like a guy from Chicoutimi,” albeit better than some other members speak French. He’s listing all the various alleged infractions perpetrated by Goodyear — unilateral adjournments punctuated by the chair stomping out of the room, inconsistent rulings, that sort of thing.
The French-to-English simultaneous interpreter, by the way, has the yummiest Australian accent. For some reason, we seem to be hearing a lot of non-Canadian voices over the headset lately – perhaps it’s less painful for foreigners to listen to the grindings and squealings of democracy as yet another minority parliament careens over the cliffs of dysfunction.
Guimond seems to be winding down, finally. He seems genuinely sorry at having to excoriate the still-inscrutable Goodyear, but not so sorry that he won’t hold back his outrage.
And with that, he formally moves the motion, and proposes that it be voted as soon as possible, at which point the healing can, presumably, begin. Of course, what’s more likely to happen is a walk out by the Conservatives, which would bring the meeting to a close, but it’s a nice thought.
Yvon Godin notes sombrely that he was the person who moved the motion of non-confidence at Official Languages last year, and stresses that this decision – to non-con Goodyear, that is – was not reached lightly.
It’s a bad sign when the English translation goes offline, but no one notices for nearly two minutes. What can I say; I was mesmerized by the rythmic nodding on the other side of the room. I don’t know why the Tory staffers are nodding so vigourously in tandem with the non-confidence-supporting stylings of Yvon Godin. Maybe they’re trying to mess with our heads.
“I call for you to stand down, I have lost confidence in you,” Godin tells the chair. He’s especially scandalized by how Goodyear handled the six hour Lukiwski filibuster – never before has he seen a chair allow a member to take breaks to go to the bathroom.
Speak of the filibuster-er in question, now Tom Lukiwski is speaking on the motion, although if he thinks he can free associate for the next hour and a half, he’s likely to be severely disappointed, since I’m guessing the opposition will put a stop to that pretty darn quickly.
He thinks that the court of public opinion “would weigh heavily on [Goodyear’s] side” when it comes to his rulings related to the last six months of in-and-out filibustering, and he scolds the opposition for hurling unkind personal remarks at the chair. He thinks the chair was “perfectly within his rights” to adjourn meetings for “decorum reasons.”
Oh, and he really wasn’t impressed by the song earlier today. Guimond, however, tells him that he has the right to sing whatever song he wants before the meeting starts; a parliamentary privilege that I can’t help but wish more MPs would exercise.
Now Lukiwski seems to be issuing vague threats: he wants to get the vote over with, so as not to further keep Goodyear in suspense over his fate, but hints that there will be “consequences.” What kind of consequences? He doesn’t specify.
Marlene Jennings has just one more example of dubious decisions by the Chair to add to the litany supplied by Guimond: his habit of making a decision, and then denying any attempt to challenge his ruling by claiming that it was just an administrative matter. This, she says, was what cost her confidence in the chair.
Scott Reid – my nominee for the next chair, if anyone is paying attention – clearly feels bad for Goodyear, who – I’ll note once again – looks entirely uninvested in the debate, bolstering my theory that he’s not exactly saddened by this turn of events. Scott Reid, however, is sad enough for both of them, and bemoans the loss of collegiality and camraderie around the committee table.
Staffers on both opposition and government sides of the room are flipping madly through standing orders, presumably plotting their respective next moves.
“I’m not sure what ‘immediately’ means,” Reid is admitting, as part of what is turning into a suspiciously long and thorough “me too” to Lukiwski’s intervention. I can help: it’s the opposite of pretty much anything and everything that happens at any meeting of this particular committee.
I thought the Tories were all about holding the vote as soon as possible. What happened to putting Goodyear out of his misery? Does Scott Reid want to force him to endure yet another meeting on his future? Ahh, there we go. Sometimes “and, in conclusion” truly are the most beautiful words in the English language.
One more Tory at the bat: Pierre Lemieux, who I always forget exists. He’s mournful over the partisan nastiness of the opposition, and the temper tantrums, and the hijacking, and all that. Once again, the bullies on the other side of the table are trying to run roughshod over committee, and — yeah, that’s about where I came in. Can we vote soon? I can’t even remember the last time there was actually a vote at this committee.
Oh, Lemieux would like to note that he is completely opposed to the motion, and a big fan of the chair, whose actions, he somewhat eyebrow-raisingly suggests, should be a “model” for other chairs.
And – the vote! This is so exciting.
Actually, what will really be exciting is what happens afterwards, when they’re ostensibly going to move immediately to the election of a new chair.
Motion carries, and Goodyear acknowledges that it’s time to vacate the chair. First, though, he gives a sweet little goodbye speech, in which he thanks the clerks and analysts he’s worked with . And — now he’s gone, after a sad promenade down the government side of the room, as the remaining Conservative members pat his back, and wish him well.
Out with the old chair, in with the new: and now it gets interesting. The opposition puts forward the name of — Joe Preston as the new chair. A queasy-looking Preston vows that he won’t serve if nominated, but the opposition ignores him, and votes him in as chair, against his express wishes.
“This meeting is in disorder,” claims Scott Reid. He seems to think if he repeats that enough, it will be true, but the clerk doesn’t seem to be buying that argument, at least for the moment. Joe Preston insists that he just won’t be the chair: “There are laws that protect me from doing something I don’t want to do,” he says, plaintively.
“This meeting is over,” insists Reid. “It’s in disorder.” His point is somewhat muted by the perfect, pindrop silence in the room.
Everyone stares at each other. “Someone call Jay Hill,” jokes an opposition MP.
Scott Reid is torn between insisting that the meeting is over and arguing with the opposition about the hostage-taking of newly drafted committee chair Joe Preston. He invites all and sundry to consult their Marleau and Montpetit – not, he makes a point of mentioning, that this is still an active committee meeting; it’s “just a chat.”
Joe Preston is threatening to take pictures, since it’s not a meeting, and the rules don’t apply. Does that mean I can break out the ITQCam? This has possibilities!
The Tories are in a huddle, plotting furiously. Various staffers from the Whip and House Leader’s offices are looking very serious.
Oh, and the translation is still on, so I guess this is a meeting, and not just a not all that friendly chat, at least as far as the clerks are concerned.
Joe is back at the table, smiling bravely. Guimond is taunting Scott Reid, and I’m starting to wonder how this actually ends, since the Tories are sticking with the claim that this is just a chat. Anyone out there want to bring me a datesquare if this goes on much past 1? I’ll totally pay you back!
Someone apparently had the bright idea of sending for the Biggest, Baddest Procedural Clerk on the Hill, who is now consulting in soft, but serious tones with the luckless committee clerk.
Looking at the guy, I can tell you that I’ve passed him in the halls on numerous occasions, but I hadn’t the foggiest idea that he was so very important, and have no idea who he is. If he can bring order to this chaos, however, he deserves an honourary title between his first and last names, like Robert “Solomon” Marleau. (Okay, I just made that one up, but still.)
(Later, I found out that the BBPC is none other than Marc Bosc. A new procedural-clerk crush!)
Michel Guimond has something to say to the Conservatives, which he begins rather ominously with the preface that what he’s about to say ‘isn’t blackmail.’ Actually, he’s just advising the Tories that in a minority situation, they should be careful when tossing around threats of consequences.
The clerk is back, and he’s trying to call the vote, but Scott Reid is absolutely adamant that the meeting isn’t in order. The clerk is — just ignoring him at this point. That’s a new strategy.
“This is indentured servitude,” bellows Preston, just as the clerk announces that he has been duly elected chair of the committee. His first act is to stomp to the front of the room, resentfully snatch the gravel, and snarl “I adjourn this meeting.”
And that is that – and, I have to say, hands down the most entertaining that we’ve had at this committee in ages. What happens next is anyone’s guess – Preston can, presumably, resign at the next meeting, but at that point, the opposition can nominate Lukiwski, and then Reid, and then – whoever their hearts desire.